Looking for Answers

The war drums have been beating. The Bush administration has been laying the groundwork for invasion of Iraq, beating the drums louder by the day.

Now it only seems a matter of when.

It's no secret that the Bush administration is considering a military strike against Iraq designed to remove Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush told the Associated Press in August that he has no timetable on when an invasion might take place, but he also reiterated his conviction that change must happen, one way or another, in the Persian Gulf nation.

And each day a new member of the administration steps forward, offering new rationales, new motivation, new explanations:

Yet, no matter what we think of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is a sovereign nation and under international law, a nation is justified in using military force against another only:

• In self-defense. The nation is under direct attack and must fight back to ensure its survival and the survival of its people.

• For humanitarian purposes. An example would be the NATO air strikes against the Serbs to stop the genocide against the Albanian minority in Kosovo.

• Or under what is called the "necessity argument" -- that the survival of the invading nation is threatened (which sounds a lot like self-defense, but actually covers a far broader array of actions). This essentially was the argument we used to send our armed forces into Afghanistan.

Given these guidelines, I'm not sure I understand the logic behind invading Iraq. Is it because the country is run by a ruthless dictator? Or that Saddam Hussein may be in possession of "weapons of mass destruction"?

(As I've said in the past, I am a pacifist and, as such, I'm opposed to the use of the military except when it is necessary to protect ourselves from direct attack. I was opposed to the campaign in Kosovo and to a full invasion of Afghanistan, though I was willing to support a very limited police action designed to capture al Qaeda.)

No doubt, change must happen. Saddam Hussein is a ruthless tyrant. He has used poison gas on his nation's citizens. He has been a threat to neighboring countries. He may have weapons of mass destruction and he remains belligerent, dangerous and possibly lethal.

But this could describe a lot of countries. China, for instance, is run by a pretty ruthless gang, is a major player in the world arms trade and has nuclear weapons.

Or Iran? Or Libya? North Korea? South Korea? Syria? Any number of nations, some friendly to the United States, some not, who meet some or all of the above criteria. Even Israel, which is prosecuting a deadly occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and has nuclear weapons, can easily be painted as a dangerous nation if one wanted to do so.

Then there are these questions, none of which have been answered or even addressed by the administration or its supporters.

What kind of reaction would an attack on Iraq generate among our allies in the Arab world, who we need if we are to have any success in cracking down on international terror groups like al Qaeda? Won't a unilateral attack on Iraq shatter the very fragile coalition we've built? And what would that mean for our relations with other Arab nations? And wouldn't an invasion only confirm the sentiments of the so-called Arab street that we are nothing more than the biggest bullies on the block?

And let's assume that Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction. Are we to assume that he would sit idly by as our armies rumble through the desert? Wouldn't he be likely to unleash the chemical and biological agents the administration is so worried about? Doesn't the American public deserve the opportunity to at least discuss whether it would want to expose American troops to those kinds of dangers?

And what about nuclear weapons? Isn't it likely that Saddam Hussein would use whatever nukes he has -- either against our own troops or against a proxy government like Israel? What then? Wouldn't Israel then be justified in unleashing its own nuclear weapons? Again, what then?

I'm not saying that these are the likely outcomes of an American invasion of Iraq. What I am saying, however, is that we need to ask these questions and get solid answers from the administration before it sends the first troops into the Persian Gulf and puts American soldiers in harms way.

Even a successful military campaign, one that removes Saddam Hussein from power, raises as many questions as it answers. Who runs Iraq after we're done? Who decides this? Who pays to rebuild Iraq? What about the Kurds? Do they get an independent homeland? If so, what do we tell Turkey? If not, how do we prevent them from becoming a destabilizing influence in Iraq without engaging in or condoning repressive behavior? The list is endless.

The American people deserve answers to these questions, answers the Bush administration seems unwilling or incapable of providing. Instead, the drums keep beating, louder and louder.

Hank Kalet is a poet and the managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and the Cranbury Press. Email

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